Hook, Line, & Stinker

Everyone loves the 49ers. But even love has its limits. Are taxpayers willing to subsidize millionaire owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.'s dreams of a new stadium when economists say it's a bad deal

For years, DeBartolo has hidden behind Policy, allowing him to be the sweet-talker. (DeBartolo declined to be interviewed.) But as his money becomes more important in town, DeBartolo will have to step to the fore and show us what he's got. And as he moves to make his mark in San Francisco and the Bay Area, DeBartolo will obviously have some adjusting to do, especially if he's asking the city to join him in a business deal.

Policy says DeBartolo is dedicated to the city. "He wants to be a part of San Francisco," he says. "He wants to remain here and own the team for the rest of his life." To back his point, he says that while the 49ers have been one of the highest grossing teams in the NFL, "(DeBartolo) has plowed all that money back into the team, hiring the best players."

All fine and well. Frankly, most San Franciscans appreciate his interest in the team and probably want him to stay, too. But if you want our money you have to ask nicely, and that's something the team isn't willing to do -- so far.

Asked to prove that the team can't afford to carry the freight of the stadium all on its own, Policy refuses to share any financial information -- even in the most general revenue/expenditure sense.

But what happens when Joe taxpayer comes to you -- which he eventually will -- and asks you to prove you need his money?

"I'll tell you what I'll say," Policy responds. "It ain't any of your damn business."

In the words of Fortune magazine, sports teams "don't do diddly" for a city's aggregate economy, and they tend to have a negative fiscal impact on other segments of a city's entertainment industry.

San Francisco has a real-life indicator of a ballclub's economic impact on its surrounding area. Just look at Bayview-Hunters Point, the nabe nearest Candlestick. Any 49er-generated spending hit Third Street lately?

According to Robert Baade, "It's an edifice complex. The Egyptians built pyramids. We build stadiums, shopping malls, and casinos." And DeBartolo builds all three.

"The lack of business discipline on the part of team owners [in reining in salaries] is translating directly into a taxpayer burden financing their new stadiums," Baade says.

The struggle to build a new stadium is at one level a story of a young scion trying to free himself from the hold of a dead and obsolete dynasty and build a new dominion -- one more modern, one more him.

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